The countdown has started

Everyone needs time to adjust, as EC girds up for forums, organic laws

Amid some anxiety about when the next general election will take place, Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) member Thitipan Chuaboonchai has indicated the key to determining that would depend on the readiness of the Election Commission (EC) and political parties, which must be revamped under the charter's organic laws.

Mr Thitipan, who is also the chairman of the CDC's opinion-gathering subcommittee, has played a key role in organising forums in four regions of the country to collect the public's views on the 10 organic laws under the new charter. The CDC is responsible for writing such laws.

Thitipan Chuaboonchai, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee's subcommittee on collection of public opinion, seen here at a public meeting at Udon Thani on Feb 5, says an election could occur in September or October of 2018 - if everything goes smoothly. (Photo by NNT)

Four laws need to be adopted initially to pave the way for an election. They consist of those concerning the EC, political parties, MP elections and the formation of the senate.

The CDC needs to draft the four laws within 240 days of the new charter, submitted to the King on Feb 18, being royally endorsed. The laws will then be submitted to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), which will spend 60 days deliberating them.

If the laws need to be amended, based on the views of either the NLA or the relevant parties, who may see that they breach the constitution's spirit, the amendment process will take up to 30 days.

There is also a process for the royal endorsement of the laws.

The whole process leading up to the election could take up to a maximum of 20-and-a-half months from Feb 18, and this could mean the poll would be held between September and October next year.

Mr Thitipan said the CDC is now drafting the organic laws on the EC and parties, which are 80% complete. The two laws need to advance first since the EC and the parties need some time to adjust themselves to comply with the legislation.

Citing the draft law on the EC, he said an additional two EC members are required to fill in while it is important to consider whether the incumbent members would meet qualifications required under the new legislation.

The EC needs 50-60 days for the process of getting new members.

Then it has to undergo restructuring and draft new rules to correspond with the new charter, a process which will take 15-30 days, Mr Thitipan noted.

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The agency also needs another 30 days to divide election constituencies and this process requires input from the public and parties, he said.

In terms of the political parties, they need to update their memberships, set up party branches, improve their own rules and create underlying funds in compliance with the new constitution, Mr Thitipan said.

If they cannot make the changes on time, they would be unable to field election candidates, he said.

Mr Thitipan said the parties must be given time to adjust themselves to the new system fairly.

Some smaller parties, he said, could be at a disadvantage in terms of fundraising and the gathering of an adequate number of party members. On the other hand, some issues could also put larger parties at a disadvantage, such as a requirement that the parties must collect membership fees from all their members.

Mr Thitipan said the CDC will avoid sending all four organic laws to the NLA at the same time since this would trigger the new charter's conditions that would force the poll to be held within 150 days.

Under this tight timeframe, several parties could be deprived of fielding candidates for the poll, he said.

"After the new constitution comes into force, the CDC will send organic laws on the EC and parties to the NLA for consideration first," said Mr Thitipan, adding that in the final stage of the 240-day requirement for the CDC to draft the laws, the legislation on the MP elections and the formation of the senate will subsequently be forwarded to the NLA.

"The CDC set a target that when the EC and political parties are ready to comply with the process leading to the election, the CDC would forward the remaining organic laws to the NLA before the 240-day timeframe ends," Mr Thitipan said.

He insisted there is no need for the CDC to use the full timeframe for the law-making process, and this would help reduce time in the regime's roadmap.

In the process of making the laws on the EC and parties, Mr Thitipan said opinions were initially sounded out from the EC and parties before the EC, which is the key agency in dealing with the election, crafted the first drafts. The drafts were then raised at public hearings in the four regions.

The other two laws are in the process of going through public hearings, he said. (Story continues below)

According to the CDC member, the laws on the EC and parties would be forwarded to the NLA for immediate consideration after the new charter is promulgated. Another two laws need to wait for the readiness of the EC and the parties to adjust before they could be delivered to the NLA.

"During this period of time, the CDC still has time to listen to feedback, which could be added to the draft laws before they are to be forwarded to the NLA," said Mr Thitipan.

Referring to steps on the public hearing of the organic laws, Mr Thitipan said the CDC would raise the contentious issues on these laws for debates.

For example, the law on MP elections would have a question as to whether the candidates vying to become MPs must also submit their past tax payment records and how many years should be traced back, he said.

The law on the formation of the senate would concern how to divide professional and social groups to ensure fairness.

During the hearing process, participants will be divided into small groups which would be responsible for discussing particular topics.

Each group would then spell out their views on the topics, which would be added by other groups.

Staff at the King Prajadhipok's Institute would then record the groups' views and forward them to the CDC.

"We must hold forums to gauge public opinions as these laws are important for the nation's future," said Mr Thitipan.

"This also complies with the new constitution's principle on Section 44, which indicates that before any laws are drafted, the state authorities should organise the process of gathering opinions."

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